TAIPEI (REUTERS) – Taiwan unveiled a proposed 12.9 per cent year-on-year increase in its defence budget for 2023 to NT$415.1 billion (S$19 billion) on Thursday (Aug 25) amid tensions with China, which has sharply increased military activities near the island.
On top of the proposed budget, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s Cabinet is proposing an additional NT$108.3 billion in spending for fighter jets and other equipment.
The proposal, which is a record high and must be approved by parliament, marks the island’s sixth consecutive year of growth in defence spending since 2017.
The island last year announced an extra defence budget of $8.69 billion by 2026, which came on top of its yearly military spending, mostly on naval weapons, including missiles and warships.
Ms Tsai has made modernising the armed forces – well-armed but dwarfed by China’s – a priority.
Taiwan will next year begin deploying drone defence systems on its offshore islands, the defence ministry said earlier, after footage emerged of Taiwanese soldiers throwing stones at a Chinese drone that buzzed a guard post near China’s coast.
Taiwan has complained of repeated Chinese drone incursions near its offshore islands as part of China’s war games and drills after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei this month, which infuriated Beijing.
China regards self-ruled Taiwan as a renegade province awaiting reunification with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan says it will defend its freedoms and democracy.
The brief video clip, circulated first on Chinese social media before being picked up by Taiwanese media, shows two soldiers throwing stones at a drone that got near their guard post.
In a statement late on Wednesday, the defence command of Kinmen, a group of Taiwan-controlled islands that sit opposite China’s Xiamen and Quanzhou cities, said the incident occurred on Aug 16 on Erdan islet, and confirmed the soldiers had thrown stones to see off what it called a civilian drone.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a separate statement that starting next year, it will deploy anti-drone systems, which will first be placed on the smaller islands.
“Officers and soldiers at all levels will continue to implement vigilance in accordance with the principle of “not escalating conflicts or causing disputes”, it added.
China has not commented on the footage, which has received millions of views on Chinese social media with users making fun of it.
It has also triggered heated discussion in Taiwan, with some social media users calling the incident a “humiliation” for the island’s armed forces and urging the defence ministry to step up its countermeasures to the increasingly frequent drone incursions.
The Kinmen defence command said the footage was another example of China’s “cognitive warfare” against Taiwan and an attempt to “denigrate” its armed forces.
Mr Wang Ting-yu, a senior lawmaker of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, described the incident as “very serious” and questioned why Taiwan’s defence ministry did not respond to the incursion.
“The drone was flying on top of our soldiers on guard but there’s zero response,” he said. “If you just let them come and go freely, this was negligence of duty.”
Taiwan has controlled Kinmen, along with the Matsu islands further up China’s coast, since the defeated Republic of China government fled to Taipei after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong’s Communists in 1949.
At its closest point, Chinese-controlled territory is only a few hundred metres from Kinmen.